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Learn to Play by the Rules—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Is there any value to board games? My children, ages 4, 7, and 9, would prefer to play electronic games separately. If they do pull out a game – Sorry, Chinese Checkers, Chutes and Ladders – inevitably there are arguments and tears.

Reluctant Referee

Dear Referee,

There are many benefits to playing board games. The primary benefit is that the group must learn to work within a system of rules. They also learn how to incorporate the abilities of the other players in order for them to enjoy and to continue playing until the end of the game. A third important lesson – one that is sometimes glossed over – is learning how to win and lose graciously.

A board game comes with written instructions about how to play. (You can find them online if they’ve been lost.) The classic games you mentioned have been around long enough that we should expect that the directions and rules of play have been perfected by now. Your older two children can review them together before the start of a game to be sure there’s no confusion. It will be more difficult for a four-year-old to abide by a rule, however the older two can set a good model by referring to the list of rules as needed until everyone is clear about what they mean.

Families are governed by a set of rules as are schools, clubs, community associations, countries, and worldwide organizations. Board games can teach your children that while it’s not always easy to let the rules dictate their behavior, when everyone agrees to them and follows them, the game can be enjoyed.

Your children have different abilities due to their ages and personalities. If one of your family rules is that differences are taken into consideration in such matters as bedtimes, chores, allowances, etc., then your children can probably see the sense in bending a rule for one player – usually the youngest. Older siblings shouldn’t expect the younger one to be at the same level as they are for: reading ability, patience, life experiences, and basic counting. The younger one can be included in playing a game, however, with a little extra help at times, even if that means making occasional exceptions for the rules or allowing a “Do Over” now and then.

A wise adage in any social group is that Fair isn’t always Equal. If a goal for the group is that everyone enjoy this activity together, then success is more likely if concessions are made to
enable every player to participate in ways that are possible for them. As skills develop, the concessions will naturally fade away.

“Good game!” should be the cry at a game’s conclusion. When the rules are agreed upon and followed, with agreed upon exceptions for differing abilities of the players, then, indeed, the time spent together has been good. A good game holds the interest of all the players with its continuing challenges and moments of satisfaction. The main goal, rather than beating out one’s siblings, has been to enjoy playing together.

Does your family hold cooperation and mutual respect among its values? Adults model treating family members kindly and respectfully. Adults and children help one another, encourage one another, and refrain from criticizing or teasing one another. Winning a game (or getting 100% on a math test) doesn’t make one a superior human being any more than losing a game implies inferiority. “Well done!” can be declared with sincere pride for the other player’s victory. One’s disappointment in losing a game likewise merits no more than a simple shrug before moving on to the next activity. Before moving on from a defeat, players of any age can use games of strategy, as opposed to games of chance, to evaluate how they might strategize differently the next time. Players can help each other with this, treating the elevation of a sibling’s skills as a mutually shared goal.

Invest some time in getting in the game with your children to teach them how to use rules, individual consideration, and good sportsmanship. The prize for everyone is that you will have more fun activities to do with the people you spend the most time with.

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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